Last week’s announcement that former Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian, who is currently serving as ambassador to the United States, will occupy a senior executive post in a Russian-led economic grouping of post-Soviet nations has elicited mixed reactions in Armenia.
Sargsian’s candidacy to the post of the head of the Eurasian Economic Commission was suggested by President Serzh Sarkisian during last Friday’s summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in Burabay, Kazakhstan.
The Eurasian Economic Commission is the executive body of the EEU that currently has five members, including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Sargsian was informed about the discussions of his candidacy still when he headed the government, a senior member of the Sarkisian-led ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said on Monday.
“I think that a correct candidate has been chosen. Because all preliminary stages [of Armenia’s membership in the EEU] were passed under the Sargsian government,” Vahram Baghdasarian, the leader of the HHK’s parliamentary faction, said.
He added that the issue was not discussed at the HHK executive body’s meeting.
As for whether it could pave the way for Sargsian to return to domestic politics, Baghdasarian said: “There can be many suppositions, but who has said that a person occupying the post of an ambassador to the United States or other ambassadors are cut off Armenian [political] reality?”
Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress, meanwhile, thinks that Sargisian’s planned appointment in the EEU’s executive body shows the “serious personnel tension” that exists in Armenia.
“We all have heard about numerous abuses that were done by the Sargsian government and one scandal personally connected with his name,” said Zurabian, implying the 2013 media revelations of his alleged links to dubious financial transactions made through an offshore-registered company .
“The authorities promised to give explanations on the offshore scandal, but till today nothing has been explained,” Zurabian continued.
The oppositionist thinks that this could also affect the reputation of the EEU. “If it turns out in a few months or a year that Tigran Sargsian did commit some serious abuse and his involvement in the serious corruption scandal is proved, won’t it hit the reputation of the EEU? Naturally, it will,” Zurabian said.
Naira Zohrabian, the leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) who was a bitter critic of the Sargsian government since the BHK left the governing coalition in 2012, voiced skepticism about prospects of any successful activities of Sargsian in the new post.
“During his time in office as Armenia’s prime minister the country experienced a sharp economic decline, let alone the dubious stories and the corruption scandal,” she said.
Zohrabian thinks that the ground is being prepared for Sargsian’s return to domestic political life.
Weeks before announcing this appointment, President Sarkisian, while visiting the United States, spoke at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peacein Washington DC. There he said that he could predict who would be Armenia’s next leader, but added that he did not wish to give the name of that person.
On Friday, Sarkisian named Sargsian as his chosen candidate for the post of head of the EEU executive body that will occupy it for a period of four years beginning from February 1, 2016.
Analyst Hakob Badalian thinks that the decision should be viewed more within the internal context.
“In fact, Armenia’s former prime minister, who, in general, found himself in the role of a target in the internal political process, now gets a higher status by taking the post of the de-facto prime minister of the EEU. Of course, it will be a temporary office, but in all cases this appointment means that Sargsian is becoming closer to domestic political life,” said Badalian.
According to the analyst, it also implies that at least psychologically this appointment will have its influence on Armenia’s ruling system.
“It is very difficult to say what Serzh Sarkisian’s goal is, but the general logic of domestic political and intra-government developments prompts that in these developments Serzh Sarkisian wants to have a large scope for maneuvering. In this sense, the more there are centers of internal political force, the more there will be opportunities for Sarkisian to maneuver. And in this sense, I think, he is simply trying to diversify the layers of the intra-government game with one more player, thus ensuring a maximally broad range for action first of all for himself,” Badalian concluded.